Stephen Meyer, a founding member of Discovery Institute, and cause celebre
for the brouhaha generated by his peer reviewed paper on ID, has just come out with his best argument in a book. To recap the ID arguments: Dembski argued on the basis of mathematics, Behe argued for "irreducibly complex" biological mechanisms, and Johnson argued for legally coherent logic. Meyer bases his argument on the digital information system of the cell. His book hit the shelves last month, and while I have only read the front matter (as well as Meyer's previous essays) here is my response to a hostile review of his book by a biology major.
I received Signature in the Cell by Stephen C. Meyer in the mail today.
That's 600 pages to kill in less than two weeks, but I'll do my best. I've
started reading it already.
I was momentarily surprised to recognize the name of the author. And while
was involved in the scandal at the Smithsonian, I don't believe he is guilty
of much beyond doing poor science.
This is kind of you, but whether he is guilty of manslaughter or not
really makes no difference to the arguments he presents. You will have
to stop moralizing about the motives of scientists and address their
purported claims. Ad hominem
is not and never was, a scientific
The real breach of ethics came from
Robert Sternberg, who by-passed the peer review process in order to sneak on
Meyer's article into the journal the Proceeding of the Biological Society of
No, that is NOT what a blue-ribbon congressional committee concluded
would do you good to read what the lawyers say, because scientists make
really poor legal eagles. Take my 30-year-experience word for it, no peer
review operates the way a journal claims. No ethical breeches were made,
merely the breech of publishing something that was deemed a priori
blasphemous, which is generally where the good science is located. Read
Thomas Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions
" if you want more
details on what was really going on in the debate. But more importantly,
rebuttal does not actually address the science in the
article. If you are going to attack ID for what it says, you should not
attack it for who says it.
There is a lot of misinformation about the events surrounding
Indeed there is. It would do you good to get Sternberg's opinion
too. Watch the "Expelled
" movie and you will see the interview with him discussing this "scandal".
In fact, the book's prologue spews lies and misinformation
starting on the first page. Luckily for the author, this early dishonesty is
independent of the intellectual work he purports to have conducted, which I
have taken time to evaluate.
Hmm. Once again, attacking the irrelevant details of a story is just
another method of ad hominem
, for it really doesn't matter who your
mother is, frankly, when evaluating scientific debate. And when you
research the "lies and misinformation" I guarantee you will be astounded
how the story you've been told has been twisted as well. Best not to
argue over irrelevant points, you can't win, but you can lose.
I would like to note that Meyer states that he published an article in a
respected peer-reviewed journal. While this is technically correct, the
peer-review of his particular article was never carried out.
You're nit-picking at irrelevancies. It was peer reviewed by three reviewers, despite what
you may hear otherwise, both Stephen Meyer and Richard Sternberg will
tell you how. And as I told you before, peer-review is a murky enough
process that you really don't want to get into a debate of what
constitutes valid "peer-review". The stories are quite spicy, and I have
an evening full of them.
It is also
important to note that there has not been a publication of a pro-intelligent
design article in any peer-reviewed scientific journal since (nor was there
Um, quite the contrary (and you can go to Discovery Institute and check
out their list
). But you have made a claim in the form of a universal
negative, which everyone since Aristotle has pointed out is extremely
difficult to validate. I don't think you can exhaustively prove this
claim until you have read every peer-reviewed article ever published and
asked if it supported design. But if you did, you would find many more
than you just stated. (Yockey's 1992
paper comes to mind, though the man himself eschews ID, his papers support it.)
So in general you are quite right, there are not many peer-reviewed articles, but there have been two
dozen or so that have been highly influential. But you might ask why
this is an important point to make? Were there any publications of the
inverse square law of gravity before Newton? Did that invalidate his
Meyer makes the point that truly innovative work doesn't fare well in the peer-reviewed journals, simply because one can't make a lengthy argument in that brief format, and abbreviated papers are too incomplete for reviewers to approve. After all, even Darwin had to publish his innovative work in a book. So whether there have been one, two, or a dozen peer-reviewed
articles doesn't make a theory any more valid or invalid. Science is NOT
consensus, politics is.
My very first point of contention is that there seems to be a radical
misunderstanding about what evolutionary theory claims to explain and what
it does not.
You are catching on to the whole problem with this debate. When there
are different definitions for the main terms, then how can any consensus
be achieved? But the problem is worse that that, the problem is that
multiple definitions are used and interchanged causing ambiguities that
are intentional; a method known to students of Aristotle as
"equivocation". Once again, lawyers are all over these rhetorical
shenanigans, while scientists seem oblivious. That's why Phillip Johnson, a
lawyer, got involved in ID, because without knowing the science, he got
very suspicious of the equivocation he saw in the defence of Darwin.
Meyer's point about intelligent design does not necessarily
conflict with evolutionary theory, though it is closely related. Meyer
argues about origin of life, which evolution technically does not address.
No, if you read Meyer carefully, he objects to both Evolution (as a
deterministic system of speciation) as well as origin of life (OOL). The
point is that if bacterial life is designed, then why isn't invertebrate
life, vertebrate life, mammals and primates? There is no a priori reason
for terminating design with the first bacterium. The same principles that detect design in OOL, can detect it in transitional forms as well. Which is why Darwinists
see OOL as the camel's nose, as well they should.
But your technicality for evolution is just that, an equivocating
technicality that is easily dismissed. The problem is that there are 5+
definitions for evolution, and when someone brings an argument against
one, then retreat to another definition is pure and simple equivocation.
I don't have space to enumerate the many definitions of evolution, here
are just a few:
1) evolution-1: change over time. -- Both ID and Darwinists accept this.
2) evolution-2: change over time caused by random chance.-- Both ID and
Darwinists accept this.
3) evolution-3: change over time caused by random chance leading to
fundamentally greater complexity -- Darwinists accept this, ID doesn't.
4) evolution-4: absemce of change over time due to any other process than
chance and law (physics) --Darwinists accept this, ID doesn't.
5) evolution-5: Non-existent, impossibility of any forces in nature except
those due to material causes (physics) --Darwinists accept this, ID
OOL problems fall into the category evolution-4, which is a subset of
evolution-5. Claiming that OOL is a mystery to evolution (and therefore
not defended) would still permit miracles and ID, so that despite not
wanting to talk about OOL, no Darwinist will abandon evolution-4 and
evolution-5. That's why it is an equivocation to say evolution is
technically not about OOL.
(We could say a great deal about -4 and -5 and metaphysics, but it would
distract from the science right now.)
Evolution by natural selection describes a mechanism to explain how lines of
organisms change over time. It is used to elucidate the mechanism by which,
from generation to generation to generation, organisms gradually change. We
know from incredible amounts of data, fossil and genomic evidence to cite
two sources, that organisms do change over time. We can see this very
clearly in bacterial evolution today because bacteria reproduce so quickly.
You are defending evolution 1, and evolution-2. There is no debate here.
There is, however, a debate whether evolution-3 has ever been observed
even in bacteria. See Michael Behe's "The Edge of Evolution
" for a
recent discussion of the malaria parasite by a microbiologist. The problem is the that all
observed evolution in bacteria (notably anti-biotic resistance) is
devolution, not evolution. The resistant species is less robust in the
wild than the original, which cannot be an argument for "progress".
The issue of origin of life, or abiogenesis, has implications for evolution
but in no way can call evolution into question.
Indeed it can. Because if instead evolution was caused by--as I have
peer-reviewed published papers describing--bacterial transport on a
, then the whole scenario of "descent with modification" is called
into question. If life arrived from outside the Earth, then we aren't
seeing "change over time", but "transport over time", making evolution
no more correct than saying your old neighbors mutated into that new
family with kids.
It is origin of life that Meyer claims to address. However, what he actually
does is address origin of information of life. These are two closely related
but subtly different claims. Essentially, he constructs a straw man by
saying that DNA has information in the form of the genetic code and that
since we see code today in the form of digital, which is man-made, the
genetic code must also be made by some intelligence which he terms a
Look, it is a rhetorical device to insist that your opponents arguments
are "straw men", when you cannot refute them. Whether or not DNA==Life
or merely DNA-->Life is an irrelevant distinction. Or as they say in
rhetoric, "a distinction without a difference". There are no examples of
life without DNA/RNA. If you want to call prions "life", then you have
most of the biology community against you. So it is perfectly within the
purview of science to replace a mushy biology word with a concrete
physical analogue, and then draw conclusions from that physical analog.
But what he fails to adequately address is the fact that DNA is not the only material that can store information.
Again, this is a distinction without a difference. Information is stored
in countless ways on your laptop, in the RAM, in the buffers, in the
monitor, but if it evaporates when you turn it off, it isn't the kind of
information that is important to your thesis. DNA is the permanent
record of info in the cell, and everything else derives from it. None of
the other information storage devices are relevant to the question of
speciation. In fact, Darwin formally disallowed information flow
backwards from the environment into the genome, condemning Lamarck's
thesis, (which is now being supported as the newly discovered
"epigenetic" information). Biologists even give this one-directional
information flow a name, "The Central Dogma" is that the DNA holds the
info, and everything else derives from it. If your complaint about other
sources of info were valid, you would have to erase the "central dogma"
from the textbooks.
Further, he asserts that any assemblage
of information must be artificially created. Both these statements are
false. Proteins, RNA, clay, and many other pre-biotic molecules can store
and replicate informaiton, especially if all these materials are allowed to
interact with each other, which is almost definitely the case.
Okay, we now have two T/F issues that you think are central to Meyer's
thesis. He says:
(1) DNA is the central information storage of life, and
hence to OOL. You say no. Let's examine the evidence:
a) Do proteins contain information? Yes. Can they replicate that
information? Not very well. Can they store that information for any
important length of time (say, 100 years, the lifespan of tortoises and
some people.) No. Can they store it for 1 year? Not without enormous
error rates. Can they store it for 1 day? Not at the part-per-billion
error rates of DNA. Why? Because the peptide bonds get hydrolyzed, and
several of the amino acids that make up proteins are unstable. They are
nearly useless an information bank, with cellular lifetimes on the order
of seconds or minutes.
b) RNA. Can it replicate? Not really, it is 99% the product of a cell
that has DNA in it. Does it have information? You bet. Can it store
information for 100 years? No, it is much less stable than DNA. Typical
lifetimes in the cell are again seconds to minutes. Does this invalidate
Meyer's thesis? No, he specifically mentions that DNA and RNA are
considered the same in principle, but the "Central Dogma" says that RNA
is produced from DNA. So Meyer is merely going by the book here, and if
you want to argue a "RNA-world" hypothesis, you will have to take a controversial thesis. But you called this pre-biotic, which
is ridiculous. RNA is as biotic as DNA.
c) Clay. Can they replicate? No, they are formed from bacterial
interaction with silicate rock. This is not replication anymore than
feces replicate. Do they have information? No. Then what are we arguing
about? Someones half-baked speculation on OOL from clay. Why are you
then so sure that there is information involved? Because you relied on
faulty information sources, who needed this as a way to solve the OOL
problem for evolution-5.
d) If you have "many more" pre-biotic information molecules then let the
world know, it would really help the discouraged OOL community.
So your objection turns out to be another distinction without a
difference. There may be other ways to store information, but none of
them turn out to be important. Perhaps what Meyer said was that DNA was
the only important one, and I believe you are in agreement with him.
(2) Meyer says that any assemblage of information must be artificially
Is clay artificially created? Yes, by bacteria. Is RNA? Yes, by DNA.
Are proteins? Yes by RNA and ribosomes.
So once again, you are in complete agreement with him. Find me some
information that was created by chance or by physical law. That is what
would prove Meyer wrong. Crystals are made by physical law, but they
lack information. Constellations are made by chance, but they don't
encode any message. Until you offer an alternative, I think you are in
complete agreement with Meyer here.
Next he tries to play games with large numbers, again employing a straw man.
I hate straw men as much as the next guy, but you will have to explain
why these are straw, and why real men don't obey the same laws of
physics that dominate these number problems. Sir Fred Hoyle, an ardent
atheist and materialist, did the numbers for evolution and arrived at
nearly the same calculation. See his 1987 book "The Mathematics of
". It isn't a straw man argument, and it has never been
He is also guilty of using what wikipedia call "weasel words." Here is a
link explaining them. Weasel words are sometimes a problem in wikipedia articles when a person
wishes to put spin on an otherwise largely objective article. Meyer uses
words like "random" and "chance" in sometimes inappropriate ways to create
the illusion of clarity while actually attempting to make use of the common
connotations of the words to manipulate the reader's opinion.
We are descending into ad hominem
again. I mentioned that you yourself
used equivocation earlier (the British use vocabulary where an American
uses idiom), so be careful whom you accuse. If Meyer is guilty of
equivocation, then carefully distinguish between the two meanings and
see if his argument depends on confusing the two. If not, then he is no
more guilty of "weasel words" than the "pro-lifers and the anti-aborts"
are. Face it, words have connotations along with denotations. Get used
to it, because one day someone will do it to you, and calling them names
doesn't really pack the same persuasive punch. (BTW this is why
newspapers and dead-tree media are going the way of the dinosaur--they
decided weasel words were necessary in reporting the news the right way.
Morality crusades and ad hominem
have a way of destroying their
misdefines a scientific theory, calls it the "chance hypothesis," and attacks
an idea that no serious scientist really endorses. The "chance hypothesis"
that he describes was tossed out more than 40 years ago, way before much of
the really robust and insightful work in pre-biotic chemistry was performed.
Umm, just because an experiment was declared "old-fashioned", doesn't
mean that the results aren't still cited as evidence. The Miller-Urey
experiment and the Oparin hypothesis remain in every textbook despite
the fact that they are not considered valid mechanisms for OOL. The
point Meyer is making, is that these hypotheses lie at the foundations
of biology, and when they are overturned, there is a serious problem
with the super-structure built upon them. Calling them out-of-date, does
nothing to uphold the logical superstructure. It is the status-quo
biologist who has to find a replacement for the chance hypothesis, or
the entire Darwinian edifice is endangered. (As every serious Darwinist
along with Darwin readily admits.)
Below is one example of hundreds of papers published in well-respected,
peer-reviewed scientific journals (which didn't by-pass the peer-review
Quantity is no substitute for quality, and the sheer quantity of papers
pushing weird OOL theories does not make them believable or even make
them probable. I can tell you the funniest I've heard, about
hydrogen-peroxide based life on Mars. Simply hilarious. Remember,
quantity is not quality, consensus is not science.
This is a link to a podcast from Nature magazine that interviews the author
of a paper that identifies mechanisms for the spontaneous formation of
pyrimidine RNA nucleotides in the conditions of the early earth.
I am peripherally involved in the OOL debate, because I wrote some
papers on cometary transport of life, and listened to various OOL
arguments against comets and supporting an Earth-origin. So having
listened to these people come to the Astrobiology conference and attack
my friends, I can only laugh when I hear their arguments. Since you take
this so seriously, let me point out a few relevant issues the paper
seems to overlook. Here's some of the abstract:
Here we show that activated pyrimidine ribonucleotides can be formed in
a short sequence that bypasses free ribose and the nucleobases, and
instead proceeds through arabinose amino-oxazoline and anhydronucleoside
intermediates. The starting materials for the synthesis—cyanamide,
cyanoacetylene, glycolaldehyde, glyceraldehyde and inorganic
phosphate—are plausible prebiotic feedstock molecules and the
conditions of the synthesis are consistent with potential early-Earth
geochemical models. Although inorganic phosphate is only incorporated
into the nucleotides at a late stage of the sequence, its presence from
the start is essential as it controls three reactions in the earlier
stages by acting as a general acid/base catalyst, a nucleophilic
catalyst, a pH buffer and a chemical buffer. For prebiotic reaction
sequences, our results highlight the importance of working with mixed
chemical systems in which reactants for a particular reaction step can
also control other steps.
a) The first point is the admission of the impossible
From a colleague's blog
"The first point worth making is that new advances are often shown to be
significant by referring to the lack of progress that had earlier
characterised the field. This is often a surprise to the general public,
who are typically fed a story that the problems are largely cracked and
abiogenesis researchers (OOL) are confident of tying up the loose ends
in the near future. Wade's report refers to the solution of "a problem
that for 20 years has thwarted researchers trying to understand the
origin of life - how the building blocks of RNA, called nucleotides,
could have spontaneously assembled themselves in the conditions
of the primitive earth."
Van Noorden explains the problem like this:
"An RNA polymer is a string of ribonucleotides, each made up of three
distinct parts: a ribose sugar, a phosphate group and a base - either
cytosine or uracil, known as pyrimidines, or the purines guanine or
adenine. Imagining how such a polymer might have formed spontaneously,
chemists had thought the subunits would probably assemble themselves
first, then join to form a ribonucleotide. But even in the controlled
atmosphere of a laboratory, efforts to connect ribose and base together
have met with frustrating failure."
Abiogenesis researchers adopt either 'law' or 'chance' as causal
explanations. They have rejected 'design' (not because it does not work,
but because they insist on all causation being material). The new
research is driven by a confidence in 'law'. The researchers are
chemists. For them, the origin of life is a matter of chemistry. Thus,
Sutherland, the lead author, is quoted as saying:
"My ultimate goal is to get a living system (RNA) emerging from a
one-pot experiment. We can pull this off. We just need to know what the
constraints on the conditions are first." [and] "My assumption is that
we are here on this planet as a fundamental consequence of organic
chemistry, so it must be chemistry that wants to work."
What, then, has been achieved? The researchers have synthesised both
pyrimidine ribonucleotides (but not the purine ribonucleotides). As Van
Noorden described it, they have "shown that it is possible to build one
part of RNA from small molecules". They havenot formed RNA molecules;
they have not addressed the chirality problem, they have not generated
any biological information and they have not made RNA do anything of
biological significance, let alone become clothed with a membrane and
Nevertheless, what they have done can be applauded as an elegant
example of systems chemistry. A specific bond was needed between the
Ribose and the Nucleobase, and a decade of research proved that the bond
was not going to form directly. So what the researchers did was to
create the bond and then turn the components on each side of the bond
into the desired building blocks of the Ribonucleotide. Phosphate, which
previously caused problems for OOL researchers, becomes a catalyst.
Szostak's News and Views essay draws attention to the elegance of their
"But in a remarkable example of 'systems chemistry', in which reactants
from different stages of a pathway are allowed to interact, Powner et
al. show that phosphate tames the combinatorial explosion, allowing
oxygenous and nitrogenous reactants to interact
fruitfully."[. . .] "The penultimate reaction of the sequence, in which
the phosphate is attached to the nucleoside, is another beautiful
example of the influence of systems chemistry in this set of interlinked
reactions. The phosphorylation if facilitated by the presence of urea;
the urea comes from the phosphate-catalysed hydrolysis of a by-product
from an earlier reaction in the sequence."
b) The second point is the redefinition of the "Plausible
As you know, Miller-Urey tried to start with a plausible reducing
atmosphere, added electricity, and found amino acids. The whole argument
they made was that this was a plausible composition for a plausible
atmosphere. Unfortunately, both assumptions have been challenged, and
the Miller-Urey experiment is no longer used as OOL evidence (except in
biology textbooks!) Not because it doesn't work, but because it is
implausible. But compared to Miller-Urey, the compounds and
concentrations of "cyanamide, cyanoacetylene, glycolaldehyde,
glyceraldehyde and inorganic phosphate" are totally and completely
implausible! Not only so, but the plausible introduction of water and
oxygen completely poison the reaction. So the RNA-world hypothesis is
watering down the word "plausible" to mean "anything that we can do in a
Here's a more erudite description from the same colleague's blog:
"It is good chemistry, but does it achieve a major advance in
abiogenesis research? Questions can certainly be raised. The researchers
argue that they are not starting with any unrealistic initial
conditions: "We don't use any way-out scenarios - all the conditions are
consistent with what we know about early Earth." However, this is
"The flaw with this kind of research is not in the chemistry. The flaw
is in the logic - that this experimental control by researchers in a
modern laboratory could have been available on the early Earth," says
Robert Shapiro, a chemist at New York University. [and] Dr. Robert
Shapiro [. . .] said the recipe "definitely does not meet my criteria
for a plausible pathway to the RNA world." He said that cyano-acetylene,
one of Dr. Sutherland's assumed starting materials, is quickly destroyed
by other chemicals and its appearance in pure form on the early earth
"could be considered a fantasy." [and] "But while this is a step
forward, it's not the whole picture," [James] Ferris [of the Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.] points out. "It's not as simple as
putting compounds in a beaker and mixing it up. It's a series of steps.
You still have to stop and
purify and then do the next step, and that probably didn't happen in the
c) The third point is the unintentional support of ID.
But "anything we can do in a lab" is done by intelligent agents,
chemists, who control the temperature and composition to get the result
they need. Since this is unlikely to occur by chance in the pre-biotic
Earth, what this experiment really reveals is just how much ID is
required to make ribonucleic rings in the absence of life. Here's my
colleague's blog again:
"It can be argued that the chemical reactions documented actually yield
products that are intelligently designed. The experimental conditions
are engineered to selectively accumulate some reaction products (by
fractional crystallisation) and selectively destroy others (by the
influence of UV radiation). These conditions are considered more
plausible in Darwin's hypothetical "little warm pond". Indeed, Wade's
report says: "Dr. Sutherland's report supports Darwin". This is
significant because the emphasis in abiogenesis research has shifted in
recent years to other scenarios - notably at mid-ocean ridge locations.
Those who find themselves impressed with the potential of this research
would do well to reflect on the way the chemistry is engineered to
achieve the outcomes and the associated fine tuning of environmental
factors. These are not Darwinian emphases!
d) The fourth point is the failure to address the problem: what makes RNA special.
All this work is just on the pyrimidine rings! We haven't even discussed the bases
that line the RNA, which is where the real information is found. We're
debating the abiotic manufacture of the machinery and haven't even
gotten to the primary evidence of ID, the information coded on the RNA.
Nor have we discussed peculiarities of living RNA versus the RNA of this
reaction, namely, the chirality of life versus the non-chirality of
chemistry. We still haven't figured out the machinery, and likely never
will. The blog again:
"Of the other limitations mentioned above, the chirality problem is
noted in Wade's
"A serious puzzle about the nature of life is that most of its molecules
are right-handed or left-handed, whereas in nature mixtures of both forms exist. Dr.
Joyce [an expert on the chemical origin of life at the Scripps Research Institute in La
Jolla, Calif.] said he had hoped an explanation for the one-handedness of biological molecules
would emerge from prebiotic chemistry, but Dr. Sutherland's reactions do not supply any
Does any of this discussion give me confidence that we are on track to
explain RNA-World? No, because if anything, these "advances" admit just
how far away we are from getting even one aspect of the RNA-world to
function, much less the coding and the self-enzymatic activity.
Miller-Urey was wrong about a "protein-first" OOL solution, but the
RNA-first solution is even more implausible and difficult to imagine.
Furthermore, Meyer also "takes on" other scientific theories by the same
misrepresent and attack method.
Attacking is the nature of science. Misrepresenting isn't. So if he is
guilty of misrepresenting, then you are duty bound to make it clear what
is being misrepresented. Sure, you can quote PZ Myers at
Pharyngula who claims all sorts of misrepresentation, but my point is that after the ad hominem
name calling and accusations are finished, no one
is able to clarify the precise misrepresentation nor demonstrate which
logical error was committed. In other words, it wasn't a
misrepresentation that was at fault, but a disrespection problem; it
wasn't the science but the religion that was violated. Calling blasphemy
a misrepresentation is a category mistake.
If he were to appreciate the common sense of
evolution, he would understand why his attacks don't make sense.
Science is not common sense. This is rule #1 in every text book on the
philosophy of science. Otherwise we could all be arm chair scientists.
The only reason for scientific experiments is that science violates common sense.
Metaphysically stated, nature is external to us, and therefore we can
never predict what nature will do without an experiment.
highly evolved macromolecules and asserts that this huge complex couldn't
have come together by random chance. Well duh! Evolution says that it would
have been the result of 4 billion years of small changes and gradual
additions. Further evolution asserts that each form along the way had to
have served some purpose in the cell, though that purpose could change as
other elements also evolved to shift structure and function.
I'm glad we are in agreement about the mathematics of evolved
macromolecules. But you are taking on faith two further assumptions: (a)
that 4 billion years of small changes will accomplish the big changes;
(b) each change had a beneficial function at that time.
Both assumptions can be tested. Yes, evolution really is a theory and
not religion if it can be tested. And both experiments reveal the
a) Not billions, not trillions, not even quadrillions of years are
sufficient to account for the information changes between bacteria and
humans, or OOL. The simplest bacteria still has more information in it
than the probabilistic resources of every hydrogen atom in the universe
(10^80) rearranged at their vibrational speed (microseconds=10^-6s) for
the age of the universe (10^15 seconds) = 10^(101) combinations. Because
the amount of information is closer to (10^10,000) which is Hoyle's
estimate. Hubert Yockey, another non-ID atheist, gets 10^40,000
information bits, I believe.
b) Most mutations are not beneficial. In fact, most beneficial
mutations involve 2 or 3 changes, which have probabilities that become
vanishingly small, because they have to happen simultaneously if the
organism is to survive. Considering that there are fatal mutations
between the beneficial ones, you need to recognize just how difficult it
is to evolve a change in a protein. The only reason it has been stated
as an easy problem is because people wanted the conclusion, but didn't
want the experiment. Once again, the science-is-not-common-sense
Meyer also rudely dismisses the criticism of Kenneth Miller, a professor of
biology at Brown University and a devout Christian.
Miller is neither polite, nor devout. But this is an ad hominem
argument. Most importantly, he is wrong.
If you would like a
Christian's take on evolution, I suggest reading one of his books--Finding
Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and
Evolution or Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul.
Such views are by Theistic Evolutionists, who are really not theistic at
all, they are deistic, which either out of ignorance or malice, they do
not differentiate. That is, they are much closer to Unitarians than
Christians. This includes Frances Collins too, and the former Calvin
College prof, Howard Van Till. But once again, this is all ad hominem
and irrelevant to the question at hand.
It is not until chapter 14 that Meyer even addresses any chemical or
biological questions at all. He attempts to discredit the RNA world
hypothesis with 5 "problems." The first problem he highlights is being
solved right now, piece by piece. The link to the podcast above addresses
one of the issues with prebiotic chemistry, and issue which is commonly
known in that field of study as the biggest problem with the RNA world
hypothesis. And look, we've just figured it out. So, so assume that we won't
figure out how the rest of it works is defeatist.
Umm, I think the claims to victory are a bit premature (see my earlier
comments on the Nature paper). Not only so, but human history tells us
that hubris is a bigger problem than humility. I would say that RNA
world has so many compelling and orthogonal counter-arguments, that
there really is no chance that it will survive, say, even 10 years. It
is less compelling than Oparin in his day, or Miller-Urey in theirs.
The second problem isn't actually a problem. He just states that a highly
evolved system functions more efficiently than a less evolved one. By
"evolved" I mean several things, not simply complexity. Specificity is a
major part of it. There are an ever increasing number of papers that
identify RNA functioning as enzymes in a range of critical roles. To say
that RNA can't do this function well enough is just silly.
On the contrary, it isn't silly because it is based on experiment. The
fact of the matter is, that RNA is not
the primary component of life,
DNA is. I may sound like a broken record, but it is the Central Dogma
for a reason. One would have to assume that OOL began with RNA, and then
magically converted to DNA later, wiping out all traces of RNA life. So
the first problem is how RNA-first could have evolved and then vanished.
Likewise, DNA holds more data than RNA, so the second argument is that
one would have to assume that the less info-rich molecule created the
more-info rich molecule, which is like saying heat flows from colder to
hotter. And I could go on. The logic is so strained as to make one
wonder what RNA has going for it at all, that it should have become the
The third problem makes a big jump in logic and again forgets that evolution
occurs by a series of small changes rather than giant leaps.
I think we are dealing with the gambler's paradox here. The fact that
rolling snake-eyes 100 times in a row is unlikely, cannot be made more
likely by breaking it down into 100 separate rolls of the dice. You
cannot make evolution more likely by talking about intermediate steps.
Statistics won't let you. But more importantly, biology
won't let you.
He also asserts
that there is only one way for a coding system to have evolved, which is
quite absurd. Explaining all the problems with his logic on this point would
take a very long time.
Nevertheless, it would be quite instructive. Because as you take your
opponents argument seriously, you will discover the weaknesses in your
own. His logic, along with his education, is more extensive than
your own, which means you really have no reason to dismiss him, other
than the "argument from authority" of your teacher's unsubstantiated
The fourth problem again misapplies "chance" and statistics, among other
I have yet to meet a Darwinian biologist who can do statistics. I would
wager 10:1 odds that his statistics are better than yours. Check out
Michael Behe's blog
on the errors made by biology PhD statistics.
The fifth complains that we haven't figured out how to make a specific RNA
enzyme. This is perhaps a challenge for scientists to figure out, but is not
sufficient to toss out the RNA world theory unless you subscribe to Michael
Behe's motto "This is too hard for me to figure out, so I'll just say God
did it." Behe, btw, has claimed for years that the bacterial flagella
couldn't have evolved. The problem is that some scientists found not just
one, but several plausible mechanisms for its evolution. Behe, predictably,
maintains that he is right.
Well, your profs, predictably, claim that Behe is wrong. Being able to
predict a scientist's biasses does not, I repeat myself, invalidate his
arguments. But Behe doesn't say what you just claimed he said. This is
another one of those equivocation problems. Behe claims that there are
three causes for an action: law, chance and design. Design is not a "gap
theory", it is not the absence of law and chance that defines it, though
certainly it is a strong argument for its existence. Rather, it is the
presence of a certain quantity, which Dembski calls "complex specified
information", that defines design. Behe demonstrates why bacterial flagella are complex,
he demonstrates why they are specified, and he demonstrates why they possess information, from that he infers design.
Now materialists only allow for two explanations: law and chance. This
means that they have no explanation when flagellar motors are highly improbable and no
law defines their construction. They fall back on either speculation (Darwin's
speciality) casting about for some law that will derive this result, or they rely on some
incredibly impossible accident. But unfortunately, speculation is not
science. It is not experimental. It is not data. It is merely that,
speculation. So just because Darwin can "imagine a warm pond" for OOL
does not make it any more likely, nor imagining a "injection mechanism"
for flagellar motors, makes it any more probable. Not until an
experiment demonstrates OOL, or demonstrates the evolution of flagella
from some less intelligent precursor, are we left with anything more than pure speculation.
This is why Behe doesn't have to accept their "plausibility" arguments
because there's nothing there to see. See the discussion of
Most of these criticisms are what can be termed an "argument from
, pierre. Argument from ignorance requires there to be a
lack of evidence to make a case. On the contrary, as I said earlier,
design is a positive evidential argument from observation of complex specified
information. Darwin and the evolutionary biologists are the ones making
speculative arguments from ignorance.
In chapter 17, Meyer attempts to state that he has not been arguing from
ignorance. However, if we are to read him literally, he seems to be arguing
that aliens designed life on earth.
And why not? We have comets with fossilized life on them, some of which
we have never seen on Earth. I refer you to spie04.pdf
, as well as spie05
. (I didn't have the money to attend SPIE this year,
though I was planning to describe magnetite framboids as a bacterial
adaptation to cometary living.)
Even so, his argument puts aliens and
God on equal footing as being the agents of creating life on earth.
Actually, I take that back, he actually gives aliens a slight advantage.
And this is a problem for an atheist? What exactly do you find
objectionable about this?
Further, his justification for not accepting that in the future science may
be able to give a more complete picture of how life began through natural
means is dubious. He asserts that science makes similar assertions all the
time. However, this is another misrepresentation.
Again, I think this is clear and obviously true. So be careful about
calling blasphemy a misrepresentation, that's a category mistake.
For instance, the
conservation laws of thermodynamics say that matter and energy are never
created or destroyed.
No, actually they don't. Materialists (from 500BC until 1904 AD) used to
say that matter is neither created nor destroyed, but Einstein
demonstrated that they are convertible. So now some materialists say
that the sum of matter+energy is constant, but again, string theorists
and multiverse cosmologists disagree. In neither case did thermodynamics
have anything to say about it.
The reason for this is that if matter or energy were
created or destroyed the universe could not exist given the known laws of
On the contrary, Fred Hoyle wanted a materialist universe with chance
evolution, but knew that it was too improbable. So he suggested that the
universe has lasted forever, constantly creating matter out of nothing
and expanding so as to maintain a constant density. He kept the physics
the same, even with a small rate of ex nihilo hydrogen creation. It was
the most popular cosmology among astrophysicists from 1930 to 1960. Read
about it in Robert Jastrow's "God and the Astronomers
However, he is not justified in saying that we will never figure
out the origin of life because doing so is 1) possible, 2) increasingly
likely, and 3) would violate well established laws of physics.
I don't know quite what you meant to say with this sentence. The OOL
problem can be solved, since obviously there was a beginning to
everything, it just may take aliens to solve it. It is the a priori
elimination of all intelligence and aliens from the set of potential
explanations that cannot be justified.
I stopped reading after chapter 17 due to time constrictions, but also
because he stops talking about anything scientifically relevant.
That's a pity.
This book cites no experimental science in support of its thesis.
I found all kinds of scientific support. I'm not sure why you said this.
most recently published scientific work, mostly because it would cast doubt
on his assertions (something he admits to having done before).
No, a book has to be finished sometime, and that means publishing
something that is at least a year out-of-date (given the lead times for
publication). Nor has there been any progress in OOL or DNA research in
the past few years that has changed any of the standard models, as your
own citation of RNA-world demonstrates. He's as relevant today as he was
2 years ago.
misrepresents current scientific understanding and misrepresents the
criticisms that have been raised against him, albeit cleverly.
You're making a category mistake again.
The author, whose PhD is in a humanity discipline, not a science discipline,
argues just as I would expect him to given his degree, which is in History
and Philosophy. Thus, he gives long accounts of history and trivia and
recites lots of well-accepted philosophical thought to establish rapport
with his readers (though he bored me with long-windedness) before pulling a
sort of bait and switch by getting the reader to keep agreeing with him and
then making an assertion that is poorly supported. And he did this
I fail to find the "poor support" that you cite. Unless you mean
It's one of the more cleverly written pieces in a long line of intelligent
design and creationist dogma. Still, it is written to make a political or
religious point rather than a scientific one.
There is no such thing as a purely "scientific point", all objective arguments have subjective presuppositions. Read Kuhn. Really read Kuhn. His advisor
was a logical positivist who expected that sociology would support this
myth you are citing about a "scientific view". Kuhn's scientific data
did not support the myth. Read Berger and Luckman on the sociology of
knowledge. You really need to interact more with the liberal
arts faculty who have been saying this for 50(!) years to the deaf ears
of biologists. Even physicists are beginning to catch on, albeit slowly.
This is not surprising because
intelligent design is by definition not science.
By whose definition? Biologists? And how, precisely, does one do an
experiment to find the definition of science? Isn't definition, by
definition, a non-scientific activity? So then, since definition is by
definition not empirical, we must not let unscientific definers define what scientists can
do. If, on the other hand, science is defined by what scientists do, than ID is a
truly wonderful scientific field, pursued by Aristotle on up to the
present. It is materialists who are in a minority.
Our scientific understanding a vast range of disciplines advances weekly
(with peer-reviewed publications) and we gain a deeper understanding of the
natural world. There is still a vast amount we do not yet know or
understand. There is much left to discover. But to arrive at a conclusion
and then try to argue and manipulate the public understanding of science for
personal reasons is not ethical.
Agreed! So you should never use ad hominem
arguments, or let statements
about the "lack of peer-reviewed papers" stand in the way of doing
It should be recognized as such and
Isn't this conclusion at odds with the previous sentence?